Making Records Is 'Not A Race' For Modest Mouse Singer and guitarist Isaac Brock speaks with Arun Rath about Strangers to Ourselves, the group's first album in eight years — and what he's learned in the meantime about being in bands.
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Making Records Is 'Not A Race' For Modest Mouse

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Making Records Is 'Not A Race' For Modest Mouse

Making Records Is 'Not A Race' For Modest Mouse

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ARUN RATH, HOST:

For those of you just joining us, you're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR West. I'm Arun Rath. And this is a song from the new album by the band Modest Mouse. That's a sentence no one has been able to say for more than eight years. What took the indie band so long?

ISAAC BROCK: That's a good enough question. You know, I mean, it's definitely not a race.

RATH: That's Isaac Brock, the band's singer, guitarist and co-founder. I asked him why now felt like the right time to release the new record called "Strangers To Ourselves."

BROCK: The time between records - I'm not dying to put out a record. I'm kind of waiting for a record to show up. And there's a lot of time, you know, between the last couple records where I wasn't - A, I wasn't sure it was even an environment I felt like releasing music into for a minute...

RATH: Did that have to do with the business or with the music?

BROCK: A little from column A, a little from column B there, you know? Like, I didn't want to put out a record without having anything to say and things. There's plenty of that and I don't need to help fill out that role any more than it is. But yeah - no, I just kind of needed enough time to fill my head with stuff. And so, you know, I tried on a lot of stuff in the interim - beekeeping, you know, like becoming, like, some sort of master forager. I hear you went to Reed College, so you - you know, you spent your time in Oregon probably in the woods...

RATH: You did some intelligence on me.

BROCK: ...And things. Well, I did. I was told walking in the door. I'm like oh, that's interesting. And so, you know, there, I've spent that one, huh? But you've probably spent time in the woods up there...

RATH: I spent a little bit of time in the woods in Oregon, yeah.

BROCK: Yeah, it's easy to lose track of time.

RATH: It is up there. Well, let's get into the music on this album. Here's the song that I used to start my day this morning.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LAMPSHADES ON FIRE")

MODEST MOUSE: (Singing) Well, the lampshade's on fire when the lights go out. The room lit up and we ran about. Well, this is what I really call a party now. Packed up our cars, move to the next town. Well, the lampshade's on fire when the lights go out. This is what I really call a party now. Well, fear makes us really, really run around. This one's done so where to now? Our eyes light up, we have no shame at all...

RATH: So I've got to say, for me, one of the pleasures of your music is you can have these up-tempo numbers, but without vapid lyrics that kind of make me hate myself while I'm enjoying it.

BROCK: (Laughter) Yeah, I blame you guys. I wake up in the morning...

RATH: NPR?

BROCK: ...And listen to - yeah. I wake up every morning, me and Lisa, my girlfriend, listen to NPR. And it's just so much good news.

RATH: That's the world's fault, Isaac, that's not us.

BROCK: Oh, I know, I know. You know, all you need is a window and a magazine to figure out we're doing things pretty wrong and having a great time doing it, you know?

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LAMPSHADES ON FIRE")

MODEST MOUSE: (Singing) This one's done, so where to now? Our eyes light up, we have no shame at all. Well, you all know what I'm talking about. The room lights up, well, we're still dancing around. We're having fun, having some fun now. Pack up again, head to the next place where we'll make the same mistakes. Open one up and let it fall to the ground. Pile out the door when it all runs out.

RATH: I'm speaking with Isaac Brock of the band Modest Mouse. The new album is called "Strangers To Ourselves." You know, I hate saying lines like this about bands that I've been following, but it's been about 20 years since the band released its first album. What have you learned about from being in a band that long and kind of - and running a band for that long?

BROCK: Oh gosh. I mean, that's a pretty broad net, man.

RATH: Yeah.

BROCK: Well, one of the first things I ended up learning - early days, within the first few years - is that everyone's showing up to do this for their own reasons and they might not want someone to backseat drive their whole situation. And then a little later down the road, I realized that someone needs to drive the thing. As a pure democracy, we ended up never making any decisions and someone has to kind of have - at least be a little bit of a control freak.

RATH: So a functioning band's somewhere between a democracy and a dictatorship?

BROCK: Actually, it just goes back and forth and just sways. It's not even - it's not even that it stays at some like nice cruising altitude of both things combined. You kind of just shift from one to another as need be. It's - there - I don't know, there's a lot to learn. Don't - don't drink too much when you play shows. That was - God, that was a hard lesson learned. I used to just play those things blotto.

And at some point, I started doing the math in my head. I was like the collected amount of time and energy of everyone who showed up here tonight to see, you know, see us do our songs really is not worth me having a good buzz or whatever. All these people drove. Some people got babysitters, got the night off work. I'll tell you, that was something to learn. I think I've probably learned at least one other thing in all this - let me think here - largely, that everyone's opinion matters. That's what you learn as a - when you have to work very closely and live very closely. I mean, that's, you know, like, as a band, we spend most of our time together. And then when we're touring, we live in a freakin' submarine together. I don't know, you learn a lot about people and how to deal with them. I'm still learning about it.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "COYOTES")

MODEST MOUSE: (Singing) Mankind's behaving like some serial killers. Giant ol' monsters afraid of the sharks.

RATH: Well, Isaac Brock, you know, you have supposedly this reputation about being - you know, hating doing interviews and all that. But it seems like not a problem. (Laughter). It's been a pleasure speaking with you...

BROCK: Well...

RATH: It's been a pleasure speaking with you...

BROCK: ...Yeah, I mean, I don't hate doing them. I hate thinking about them after I do them.

RATH: Well, I hope you don't hate this after-the-fact.

BROCK: Oh, I'm going to. You know, I'm just going to be like oh, he asked you this and you know the answer, but you said - those other words came out of your mouth or, you know, you mumbled a bunch. So, you know, I'll spend some time with it and things and I'll call you back and be like hey, I've got all the right answers now.

RATH: (Laughter) Tell us now.

BROCK: Oh, how did I get your personal number?

RATH: That's Isaac Brock of the band Modest Mouse. He joined us from member station WUSF in Tampa, Fla. Isaac, it's been fun speaking with you. Thank you so much.

BROCK: Yeah, thank you very much, man.

RATH: And the new album from Modest Mouse is "Strangers To Ourselves." It's out on March 17.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "COYOTES")

MODEST MOUSE: (Singing) Another branch on the timber-bound tree. Birds flying low, looking downwards to feed. Mankind's behaving like some serial killers.

RATH: And for Saturday, that's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR West. I'm Arun Rath. Follow us on Twitter @nprwatc.

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